Interview with José Graziano da Silva, FAO's Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean
In this interview, FAO's Regional Representative in Latin America and the Caribbean, José Graziano da Silva, explains how the Latin America and Caribbean without Hunger originated and what it seeks to achieve, and discusses the problem of hunger in the region.
Is the goal of a Latin America without hunger achievable?
We believe in the capacity of Latin America and the Caribbean to eliminate hunger by drawing on its enormous natural, economic, human and production potentials and tapping the political will expressed by many of its governments. For this reason, we feel it is necessary -- and possible -- to be more ambitious and double the commitment of meeting the first Millennium Development Goal, which is to reduce by half the number of hungry in the region by 2015. In this way, the eradication of chronic child malnutrition by 2015 is considered an intermediate goal of the Initiative.
There are 52 million undernourished people in Latin America, which represents 10 percent of the region's population. But this average figure hides enormous differences between countries. Argentina has an undernutrition rate of only 2.4 percent, compared to 47 percent in Haiti and 23 percent in Guatemala.
And even if Latin America and the Caribbean were to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal, we would still be left with 26 million people suffering from undernutrition, a figure too shockingly high to be comfortable with.
Indeed, the goal to reduce hunger by half seems not very ambitious and morally dubious in a region whose food production is four times greater than its consumption. Let us not forget that food security – access to adequate food in quantity and quality – is a human right that the State must guarantee,
This is why we have set up this Initiative, so that with an extra effort in a slightly longer period of time we can achieve the total elimination of hunger in the Latin America and Caribbean region.
Beyond the obvious, are their broader benefits to eliminating hunger in the region?
Yes, and all of them positive. The reduction of hunger is a good short-, medium- and long-term investment, because it leads to greater economic growth and greater competitiveness. With a large portion of the labour force suffering from malnutrition one cannot be competitive. Funds allotted to combating hunger should therefore be viewed as an investment, not a social cost.
The elimination of hunger also favours democratic development and citizen participation in government; with an empty stomach, no one can participate. Hunger exacerbates social tensions and affects governability and the development of democracy as a political system.
Everything that can be done should be done to help Latin American democracies satisfy the basic needs of their citizenry, such as food, education, health and housing, in order to prevent citizens from drifting back to the old authoritarian models.
Why launch this initiative now?
We feel that this is the proper time. Latin America is currently undergoing economic growth that it hasn’t seen for two decades, maintaining average annual growth rates of over 4 percent. Further, the 2005–06 elections resulted in new governments that are re-evaluating the profile of social issues, in many cases giving them priority over economic or security concerns.
There is a far-reaching turnaround in the State’s role in providing policy and economic leadership rather than acting as a mere regulator. The State is recovering ground lost in the 1990s in terms of guarantying basic rights to its citizens and assuming responsibility for greater social cohesion through improved distribution of benefits and a more inclusive social security nets.
Can you provide some background and more details about the initiative?
In October, 2005, the Initiative was proposed by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Oscar Bergér, his counterpart in Guatemala, during an FAO meeting at our Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, in Santiago, Chile.
The idea was to collectively promote public policies and programmes to eliminate hunger by securing clear commitments from governments, congresses, civil society and the private sector. This would lead to an institutionalization of food and nutritional security and the implementation of an action plan, with an allocation of budget funds according to the degree of the problem in each country. Indeed, one of the explicit goals of the project is to translate political mobilization against hunger into a greater allocation of financial, human and institutional resources.
We also hope to have budgetary support from donor countries outside the region, which in some cases would be channelled through FAO and its support programmes . The Initiative already has the generous support of various donors, including Spain.
Although the Latin America and the Caribbean without Hunger Initiative will span the entire region, at the start it will focus its efforts on those countries with a higher rate of undernutrition, such as Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Ecuador, and will give priority to the fight against chronic child malnutrition.
What can the initiative learn from Brazil's recent experience with implementing large national anti-hunger programs?
The success obtained by the “Zero Hunger” programme could be very useful to the Latin America and the Caribbean without Hunger Initiative. The Brazilian experience shows us that efforts that bring together the entire population, in which each and every citizen participates, enjoy more support.
President Lula, the driving force behind “Zero Hunger”, has supported the Latin America and the Caribbean without Hunger Initiative since the start. He has championed the project as a revitalizing force of cooperation and development in the region in various international forums. In the meeting at our Santiago office that gave rise to the Initiative, Lula called on all nations to commit themselves to the fight against hunger. He insisted that the 21st century be “the century of Latin America,” in which the region will find its place as driving force in world development.
Lula’s support is part of the efforts being made by the three Ibero-American countries -- Brazil, Chile and Spain -- that belong to the “Quintet against Hunger” along with France and the United Nations.
Facts and figures
Today, 861 million people worldwide suffer from hunger
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